Back at her parents’ home in south Alabama, Cain blended the pie’s ingredients and poured the creamy batter into the crust.
Just as Always Dreaming splashed through the mud to victory at Churchill Downs on that day in 2017, Cain’s derby pie was liberating her family’s taste buds.
“I thought you went to Dollar General for toilet paper and cleaning supplies,” Cain said. “I didn’t think I’d find everything I needed to make a pie.”
Most will admit that dollar stores are good for many things — picking up party supplies and greeting cards without breaking the bank, for instance, or stocking up on random necessities. Paper supplies, over-the-counter medicines, and seasonal decor come to mind.
Beyond that, the argument goes, dollar stores have supplanted the grocery store and, in some communities, are now the only places to buy food.
For years, Mary Alice’s dad, Lewis Shreve, had been a regular shopper at the Dollar General. It had never occurred to him that one couldn’t gather a healthy meal in the store’s carts.
The derby pie was so good he wondered out loud if his daughter, a registered dietitian, could whip up an entire meal from the store’s shelves.
“I locked it away,” Cain said about her father’s momentary musing.
By then, after years of working as an at-home cooking specialist and dietitian for Whole Foods Market and PeachDish, she was pursuing a master’s degree in health science with a focus in nutrition at Georgia State.
In late 2017, to complete the degree requirement, Cain had to produce a project that included a research component.
Dietitian Mary Alice Cain’s first haul after starting her research. CONTRIBUTED
She remembered her father’s challenge and presented the idea to her professors.
“I was going to research Dollar General,” she said. “I wanted to determine their prevalence, their offerings, and if they provided affordable, balanced food options to their patrons.
“For my project piece, I aimed to put together a recipe book using only ingredients you could purchase at a Dollar General.”
Department chair Anita Nucci was skeptical her student would find enough ingredients to create more than a few recipes.
While Dollar General stocked a wide range of food products, fresh produce was generally unavailable.
You sure you can make that happen? Nucci asked.
Over the next six months, Cain “bought everything and anything” she believed could be used in a healthy recipe.